in Today's service, Lisa introduced us to Happiness.  OK, it was a little more focused than that.  What she actually did was show the first half of the Documentary film "Happy" by Roku Belic.  And then, as is the custom of our congregation, we had a discussion of happiness in the congregation.

Yes, this is a movie about happiness.  Here is what they say about their own movie: "Does money make you HAPPY? Kids and family? Your work? Do you live in a world that values and promotes happiness and well-being? Are we in the midst of a happiness revolution?"

The director takes on all of this, but to start off, he claims that 60% of your happiness is attributed to genetics.  You are a basically happy person or not a happy person depending on how you were born.  The other 40% is largely up to you and your environment.

We have learned through biology that a lot of a person's dose of happiness depends on their dose of a hormone called dopamine.  Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter which is a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain has several dopamine systems which play a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain.  What biology cannot tell us is how we go about getting our dopamine ( our rewards.)

One good way of getting dopamine is through exercise... especially if you get your exercise in a fun and novel way (the movie illustrated examples of marching in wacky parades or running in races that are themed... like gorilla runs.

Related to exercise is "flow. "  Flow is the idea that you can reach happiness through simple repetitive mundane tasks.  You can do this through an exercise like running where you just think about one foot coming down in front of the other.  Runners call this being in the zone.  But any simple repetitive task can get you to flow.  It is the mental state where a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

They then talked about "Hedontic adaptation."  This, they say,  is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.  This means that no matter how much improvement you have in your life, you get used to it and then you aren't any happier than you were before the improvement took place.  So stuff outside your life has little influence over you.

The authors do suggest, however, that internal goals (intrinsic goals) are on the opposite side of the value system from the hedonic adaptation of extrinsic goals.  In other words, you find happiness within your self, or with your relationships with close friends/relatives

There is a lay understanding that adversity in life is a negative thing, but there is no evidence to back this up.  There is lots of evidence that overcoming adversity brings happiness.  There is a Buddhist teaching that says that life is painful, but suffering is optional.  Suffering, they say, is a result of a loss of control.  If that is true, then there are two approaches... gain even more control than you currently have, or give up on the idea that you have to have control over everything around you.  As Sylvia Boorstein's grandmother said:  "Where is it written that you are supposed to be happy all the time?"

Do nations have national value systems?  Find out next week when we continue our look into happiness.